I eat my loneliness

Why I Binge Eat Late at Night

Pieces of chocolate.

I eat my loneliness. I find comfort in food, and the times I need comfort the most is when I feel alone.

Feeling alone is different than being alone. Loneliness can happen when you come home from a party to an empty apartment, because you are aware of the contrast. Loneliness can happen within the constant crowds of central Tokyo, where I pass countless people as I walk by the station near my house to get groceries. There are so many people to project my insecurities on. They all look like they're going somewhere more interesting than me. Loneliness happens when I'm in love and my expectations aren't met because the person I'm with is a human, not an archetype.

It's a condition, not a circumstance. Objectively, I have lots of friends and things to do and places to be, and I'd probably be even more busy were it not for an unshifting fear that makes me not call anyone to hang out because I'd be interrupting their lives. My Facebook friend count increments up nearly constantly, and with every addition I make, I think about how I should try and get in touch, and I struggle to find anything to say that would make me feel like they wouldn't respond with, "why are you contacting me?"

So I eat. I binge eat at night, mostly. Usually between midnight and one. Sometimes I eat so much before I go to bed that I'm woken up in the middle of the night by heartburn. I keep promising myself that whatever I ate last would be the final bite before I brush my teeth and then get ready to sleep. But then I feel a space in my life left unoccupied, and nearly unconsciously, I get something else from the fridge.

Sometimes it makes me hate myself. But then I remember a promise I made long ago to never self criticize, because the world is full of people who will gladly take on the task of putting me down, and they don't need my help. So I resolve to not be too hard on myself, I tell myself to relax, there's nothing wrong with eating something I like, and starting tomorrow, I'll get strict again.

Self discipline comes in waves. I fluctuate between 10 and 20 percent body fat, it takes about 3 months for the pendulum to swing from one side to the other. Overall, I don't think I ever look overweight. My friends sometimes tell me that I look "gaunt" when I've lost weight rapidly and it shows in my face before anywhere else. Sometimes I get told I look fit. Sometimes I get told I look younger than my age, and I desperately cling to those comments.

The net result is probably of not too much note to anyone else, but inside I feel like I have no balance. I'm either sliding out of control of my body, or I'm desperately fighting to get it into line.

The only successful way I've found to not eat to salve the dread of feeling alone is to find something to replace the habit of eating. I can't simply not eat, because not doing a thing only leaves a space that needs filling by the part of me that feels without words.

I've found playing video games helps. It's better than television or reading a book because it forces more sensory input and output. I have to keep my hands on the controller as I fight zombies or super villains or terrorists or whoever. The competitive aspect keeps me focused and intent. But it does make me feel a little guilty. Wouldn't the ideal thing for me to do be to write, or draw, or create?

If I could channel that late night energy that goes into feeling like I am alone into something productive, wouldn't that create a virtuous cycle that would ultimately make me not alone? If I could spend those hours making things, then, maybe now and again I'd make something of value to the world. Maybe that would lead to recognition, maybe I could get paid for having made it, maybe I could build a life around it, and the people in it would think I'm worth something and want to hang out with me and I wouldn't be alone.

My ambition to be productive collapses under the weight of that pressure for it to mean so much. Instead of just writing or drawing some random thing, it becomes symbolically the first step in the journey of the rest of my life, a building block in the overall life project that's going to solve all my problems. Nothing I can do can live up to the pressure of being so good that it's going to make everything okay.

So I don't do it. Instead, I take another few pieces of chocolate and unsalted peanuts, which is one of my go-to easy-to-grab snacks, and promise this will be the last time I eat something tonight before I begin a whole new life tomorrow.

I've been trying, though, to make baby steps toward trying to make it all come together. I found that if I tell myself to write something stupid, something selfish and pointless, with no aspiration that it will have any particular result, then I can write something. It's lame writing, but it's better than eating when I'm not even hungry because of a primal part of me that has very few suggestions on what to do about complicated existential problems.

So I wrote this.